The future of public education in Washington, D.C., will be led not by public schools or charter schools but by leaders from both sectors working together, said Kaya Henderson (F’92, EML’07), former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, at the Dec. 16 commencement ceremony of the first-ever district-charter cohort of the McDonough School of Business Executive Master’s in Leadership (EML) program.
Henderson, who co-founded the D.C. Public School Leaders (DCPSL) EML program in 2013, challenged the 20 graduates — 10 principals from public schools and 10 principals from private schools — to create that future.
“As leaders, it’s our job to have vision, it’s our job to negotiate the conditions to make that vision happen, and to turn that vision into outcomes that impact the schools and the communities that we serve,” said Henderson, who currently serves as a distinguished scholar in residence at Georgetown University.
Throughout the 11-month program, the 20 students shared best practices and developed numerous formal and informal cross-sector projects and partnerships, including the establishment of a trauma-informed educator certification program that will go before the city council. The program was formed in partnership with DC Public Schools, the DC Public Education Fund, and the Walton Family Foundation.
Speakers at the graduation ceremony emphasized that the principals’ work should and will continue beyond their degree program to impact their students and communities.
“Your work in the schools is not just education reform. You’re truly doing that,” said Robert Bies, academic director of the DCPSL-EML program and professor of management. “But you are also doing the work of social justice. In doing this work of social justice and doing it together, you are changing the landscape of urban public school education in this beautiful city.”
For Kim Martin, principal of Woodrow Wilson High School and one of two student speakers during the ceremony, the program helped her recognize the importance of believing in herself and using her voice to drive that change.
“Each of us has the chance to make things better. We might not always want to take it, but I hope you do,” Martin told her classmates. “Not because we have an obligation to Georgetown, which we do. Not because we owe it to our students or the less fortunate, which we do … It’s because you have an obligation to yourselves.”
Use that obligation and opportunity to play an even bigger role in your community, Martin urged.
“When we commit to changing the world,” she said, “we realize our true potential and discover the role that we’ll play in writing the next chapter in the great story of the lives of our schools, our communities, our city, and our collective family.”
The theme of using their new degree to lead beyond their school walls was echoed by Jake Lappi, interim principal of Wahler Place Elementary School, part of the Achievement Prep charter school network, in the second student address. Lappi reflected on the characteristics of influential leaders in his life, from his own parents, to Martin Luther King Jr., to the fellow students in his cohort.
“We have always been our most powerful when we led not based on some performance management framework or PARCC scores, but when we led freely from our core principles,” said Lappi, who earned his diploma on his son’s first birthday.
“We are a powerful, powerful cohort. And that is what our city needs right now,” he added. “Our city needs leadership that will step boldly and freely into our power to give our students what they deserve: A school rejuvenated. A community strengthened. And a city finding its glory.”
Douglas McCabe, professor of management, and Brendan O’Day, adjunct professor, also were named outstanding professors of the year at the ceremony, as voted on by the graduates.